CMO Prediction: The Trump era will herald a resurgence of values-based marketing

As first published in CMO, values-based marketing is morphing into both a corporate responsibility and a CEO conundrum.

Content marketers love listicles. List-style content is easy to produce and, because it’s quantifiably succinct, builds traffic and engagement.

Being still early in the calendar year, our newsfeeds continue to be heavily peppered with listicle predictions for 2017.

It doesn’t take long for the predictions to themselves become predictable: The rise and rise of Facebook; advancements in analytics; the normalisation of chatbots; personalisation, programmatic, automation, authenticity…

The prediction that’s missing from these lists is that in 2017 we will witness a resurgence of values-based marketing.

Let me explain.

Every serious brand will have been created around a set of brand values. Those values help define the brand’s personality, proposition and purpose. Without values, brands are bland. So, too, does every serious business claim to have at its foundation a set or organisational values. They’re the tenets that define a company’s culture and conduct.

Until recently, values have mostly been relegated to the background. They’re referenced during induction and are given air time at occasional internal briefings but little more.

What’s changed is the political climate. Now, particularly given the state of affairs in the United States, brand and organizational values are being threatened. And as a consequence, values-based marketing is morphing into both a corporate responsibility and a CEO conundrum.

The heart of the matter

At its heart, values-based marketing is all about appealing to a customer’s values and ethics.

There’s always been a commercial pay-off from building a values-based brand, business or campaign. To quote Starbucks’ CEO, Howard Schultz, “If people believe they share values with a company, hair loss they will stay loyal to the brand.”

Values-based marketing is about ‘owning’ an issue – for example, as Jessica Alba has done (despite some controversy) with The Honesty Company and its commitment to ethical consumerism and eco-friendly household goods.

It’s opportunistically aligning with a cause as Audi attempted to do with its gender equality campaign. Unfortunately, the gender equity-themed advertisement Audi aired during the 2017 Super Bowl exposed the company to ridicule by drawing attention to Audi’s own poor record of promoting women to leadership positions.

And it’s taking a public stance when an elected official issues an immoral, discriminatory or illegal edict.

Actions speak louder than words

According to research of the FTSE100 by UK agency, The Clearing, and of the S&P 500 by Chicago University, most brands and businesses more or less have the same generic set of values. Those values include integrity, respect, diversity and inclusion.

But how many of the brands and businesses we most admire actually lead by example? In the Trump-era, the number is growing rapidly.

Some industries, such as tech and biotech, are harnessing their collective influence; voicing united opposition to Trump’s travel ban because it will impact their ability to access and retain top talent, and restrict global competitiveness. Other big businesses including Ford, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, GE and Telsa have also spoken out about the immigration ban for similar reasons.

Nike and Starbucks have each issued moving open letters to their employees, explaining why they condemn the ban.

Even small businesses, such as a New York-based electronics startup, Little Bits, are electing to make their own poignant, independent statements of dissent.

Values-based marketing can come at a cost. Not engaging in values-based marketing could have even more dire consequences. By keeping silent, companies and brands are, in effect, making a mockery of their stated values, and revealing their true brand essence. And that will be heard loud and clear by their stakeholders.